Tips for Puget Sound Dungeness Crab fishing

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It’s crab season in Puget Sound! Crab fishing is fun and in my opinion easier that many other kinds of fishing. There are many great places to get crab in Pike Place Market, many local seafood markets such as Mutual Fish, and most bigger grocery stores. If you’re not interested in catching your own, don’t miss out on this summer treat!

If you’d like to try your hand at catching your own, now’s the time! The season is short (roughly July and August and often again at the end of the year sometime between late October and December 31st, depending on the summer catch) and not open every day…for all the rules visit Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. You can catch both Dungeness Crab and Red Rock crab. They have different fishing rules so it’s important to be able to identify them.

To catch crab, you’ll need a crab pot, some lines and a buoy, as well as some way to get the pot in and out of the water (specific guidelines for required gear can be found here). There are many ways to do it, but here we will focus on two ways-using a boat and using a dock.

To catch crab from a boat, you can use really any boat that is stable enough to reach over and pull up a pot! We have done this on a sailboat, aluminum skiff and an inflatable dinghy. Use nautical charts to find a place that is at least 10 feet deep and not more than 75 feet deep (keep in mind tidal fluctuations will make your depth change with the tide and ensure you have at least four times the length of rope out as the maximum depth of the water).

Easing the load of pulling pots using a sailboat winch

Another way that we have used is to put the pot in the water from one of the public fishing piers. This is a lot easier but doesn’t always yield as many crab per pot pull in my experience (but you still get them!).

Crab pot tied off on the Elliot Bay fishing pier (note the buoy is not necessary when dock fishing). This pot yielded four red rock crabs in about two hours.

A pot of Dungeness crabs!

Regardless of which method you choose, a few tips:

  • Dungeness crabs like sandy, muddy bottoms and like to hang out near pilings. Red rock crabs like rockier areas near jettys and breakwaters
  • Wearing gloves will save your hands on the ropes!
  • Watch out for the crabs pinchers when handling them…a safe way is to have your thumb on the abdomen and fingers on the back of the shell
  • Leave the pot in the water for 45 minutes to an hour (longer is ok too)
  • For bait, you have lots of options including mussels, fish carcasses, turkey or chicken and canned cat food (really most things that are meat and fresh will work…we caught our limit once with deli meat which was all we had available)
  • Bring a bucket to put your crabs in with a wet towel to put over the top (don’t fill it with water or they will drown)
  • Make sure you can identify, measure and sex the crabs you catch to make sure they’re legal before keeping them.

In a future post, we’ll talk about cleaning and cooking your crab, but for now our strongest advice is to make sure all the crabs are still alive and clean your crabs FIRST, before cooking (this is important from a food safety perspective). More to come on that!


Cleaned crab


A woman holds two dungeness crabs and is smiling on a boat. Text reads How to Catch Puget Sound Dungeness Crab
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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and presenting traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She believes in sharing her beloved Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.